The only thing worse than running a marathon is being forced to do so in flip flops

Since developers are busy air conditioning outside malls in Doha, they might have wanted to try doing so for the poor racers at this marathon.  Apparently organizers wanted to break the Guinness Book of World Records by attracting 50,000 marathoners to the event.  Why this would be something worthwhile is unclear to me, but there you have it.  They claim to have had 33,000 workers but the press reports that it was only a couple thousand.

That’s the least of the worries with this race though.  Here are some low-lights:

1. “Chaotic management, poor distribution of race packs and refreshments and a late start, which meant the race did not begin until 2pm, in the heat of the day.” Yikes, definitely time to consider air conditioning (or at least better management!)

2. Says one disappointed finisher: “there was nobody on the officials table, no organizer, no medals for finisher, and to think that there were timing devices on our numbers..what are we supposed to one explain it to us…very disappointing…”

3. “Hundreds of men who appeared to be laborers, wearing jeans, flip-flops or running barefoot. Some laborers tried to leave but were turned back and were yelled at that they need to stay and cross the line. Others were forced to walk several kilometers before the organizers obviously realized they would not finish, and so they were loaded back into their busses and sent away.” Well, that should help burnish Qatar’s record on forced labor and unethical working conditions.

4. “Police removed road blocks while people were still participating in the race” and while there were 400,000 water bottles available to the runners, organizers for some reason stopped handing them out.

Hmm, this should put to rest all the doubts about Qatar being a good place to hold the World Cup.

The polity is always fully governed*

Just discovered @MaxCRoser and his incredible data visualizations.  Here’s one showing how democracy, autocracy and colonialism has changed over the last 100 years:


(note: The figure doesn’t scale very clearly; here’s a link to a Washington Post article about it with much larger and clearer graphic.)

It’s amazing what a small percentage of the world’s population lived in a democracy in 1900 (around 10%).  Thankfully that number climbed significantly over the century.

*except for the small percentage listed as “no data”! The “no data” category disappeared around mid-century and is making a comeback.  I’m curious what “no data” means and why it’s on the rise. Would Yemen qualify?

There is no Great Stagnation, Doha edition

I think part of becoming a parent means you have to say things to your kids like “close that door, you can’t air condition the outdoors.”  Now kids can point to Doha to show their parents how wrong they are:  you can air condition the outside!

Lee Kwan Yew pointed out that AC was one of the greatest inventions of modern times, allowing workers in tropical areas to be more productive.  Now shoppers in hot climates can be more productive:

“It gets pretty hot in Qatar. In summer, temperatures can hit 47 °C, hot enough to make any outdoor event a pretty uncomfortable experience. This could have proved problematic for the designers of a new outdoor shopping complex at Doha’s Katara Cultural Village, too. But they’ve come up with a solution: they’re going to install outdoor air conditioning in the centre’s main plaza. Outdoor air conditioning is actually becoming quite a big thing in Doha. This year, it was installed in the fan area of the Aspire Track Zone football stadium.”

Hmm, here’s a less insane idea, how about just enclosing the mall and football stadium?

Ghost on the highway: on the salary-corruption nexus in Ghana

I just came across an interesting paper that provides evidence against my prior belief that increasing civil service salaries would lower corruption.


by Foltz and Opoku-Agyemang (heres a link).

Here’s the abstract:

In one of the most ambitious public sector reform experiments in Africa, the Ghana government doubled its police officer salaries in 2010 in part to mitigate petty corruption on its roads. Neighboring countries in the West African region left their police salaries unchanged. Using unique data on bribes paid from over 2,100 truck trips in West Africa and representing over 45,000 bribe opportunities, we evaluate the reform impacts on petty corruption using a difference-in-difference method that exploits the exogenous policy experiment. By following bribes paid by the same trucks in different countries as well as to different civil servants in Ghanaian bribe taking we can identify whether salaries affect both the number of bribes and the amount given by truckers. Rather than decrease petty corruption, the salary policy significantly increased the value of bribes and the amounts given by truck drivers to policemen in total. Robustness checks show the higher bribe amount is robust to alternative specifications. Moreover, we do not find that Ghana policemen collected significantly fewer bribes than other officials in the same country.

So I guess when your pay is higher, the same old bribe you used to be happy with now seems like a miserable pittance and you adjust your “requests” appropriately upward.

The least subtle example of cheating ever

In what seems like a natural follow-up to Kevin’s post yesterday about the poor state of Indian public education, QZ documents the blatant cheating that has been going on “students taking the state’s class 10 standardized test.”  According to the article,

“Because the government has such low incentive to invest in education, there are limited seats in class 11 and a miniscule acceptance rate at India’s most competitive colleges. So in order to get one of those seats, it’s not enough to just study and do well on these tests, you have to be the best.”

So the parents (putting more faith in the infrastructure of the building than I would), climb the walls of the school and pass the answers to their kids.  Here’s a photo:

India Education

Apparently it isn’t much better at the university level, at least not in Bihar.  Amitava Kumar, the author of a book called  A Matter of Rats, writes that “In Patna University, a faculty member told me, it is entirely possible for examinations to be delayed by two or three years, and when examinations are finally held, everyone feels free to cheat.”  

If everyone can cheat anyway, why the years-long delay?

Getting more with less: Private Schooling in India

Robin and I are supporters of low-cost private schools in developing countries ever since reading Tooley’s incredible “The Beautiful Tree”.

So I was both happy and saddened to see this awesome paper by Lant Pritchett and Yamini Aiyar, called Value Subtraction in Public Sector Production:  Accounting vs. Economic Cost of Primary Schooling in India.

It turns out that the median public school spent 14,600 rupees per pupil in 2011-12, while the median private school cost around 6,000 per pupil. In other words, Public schools require twice as much resources to deliver a year of education that the private sector. When you consider how many school kids there are in India, that is quite a large amount of “wasted” resources.

But the story gets weirder, because private school kids learn more than public school kids! Lant and Yamini use test scores to create an amount learned metric and then show that given the structure of public schools, it would cost almost 30,000 rupees per pupil to get their learning up to the level enjoyed by the private school kids (which is achieved at a cost of only 6,000 per pupil).


Now any of my grad students reading this will be yelling “selection bias” at their screens at this point.

The paper acknowledges the issue:

“we don’t adjust for student selection effects and hence our estimates are not estimates of “true” learning productivity effects across the two sectors. It is obvious that if higher socio- economic status of a child’s household is associated with better learning outcomes (and it typically is) and if children in private schools are more likely to be from higher socio- economic status (and they typically are) then the differences in costs and learning outcomes reflects both higher productivity of private schools and the demographic composition of students.”

and argues from other studies that the composition effect can account for something between 20 and 60 percent of the observed gaps in public / private outcomes.